Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Was It All a Dream?

I saw “Inception.”

I nearly had a seizure when I left the theater—that’s how much I liked it. Was it ALL a dream? And who was the main inception performed upon?

All intense questions for the movie-goer that I hope to answer with greater depth when I see the movie again.

Still, for those who haven’t seen it, the idea of “Inception” the movie, and inception the noun within the movie, is to slip into the unconscious of your target and plant an idea—inception—such that the target believes it was his idea all along, not some invisible hand pushing the target one way or the other.

So, what’s my point?
It was so, so long ago that Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 ¼ lengths and we became so unbelievably mesmerized by her open-length-style of victory. She does, believe me, have a compelling narrative (to be told in the hope-to-be-published-before-I-pass-away Six Weeks in Saratoga).

She then won the Mother Goose by 19, then the Haskell by six, and finally the Woodward by a diminishing neck. Rachel set the bar so high that even when she comes back and wins by 10 ½ lengths in the Fleur de Lis, it wasn’t quite enough. Not smashing. Then she sits nicely off Queen Martha at Monmouth and doesn’t kick clear by 15, rather she wins by only three lengths.

Could somebody have planted the idea that she was better than she is? Could a Dom Cobb have put us to sleep and so majestically orchestrate a dream in our own subconscious that she was too spectacular for reality? It would seem so because since we have awoken from such a sparkling campaign, her 2010 2-for-4 —which would be a pretty nice year for any horse of any caliber—just doesn’t garner enough attention and leaves people saying things such as:

“Let’s see: Four races so far this year. None of them Grade 1s.”

“It certainly didn’t leave me breathless.”

“Mr. Jackson should retire his horse now before her value plummets further. She has absolutely no chance of beating horses in the Classic or the Distaff.
Comments courtesy of The Paulick Report.

The idea, the lore of Rachel Alexandra is dead, along with the lore of Tiger Woods or Alex Rodriguez. The latter two look very human and for Rachel, she looks very equine. It’s not enough for Woods to win a tournament; we want to see him win by 15 strokes as he did at Pebble Beach in 2000. Racing fans expect no less from Rachel Alexandra.

I’d like to see the Patron Saint of Horse Racing, Jess Jackson, enter his filly in the Personal Ensign. Then, awaiting his trump card, Jerry Moss throws down the hammer and chases Rachel in a race where Zenyatta will be the overwhelming favorite. Jackson will have nowhere to turn and no excuse: the training is right, she will be entered and her withdrawal will be solely on the gutless act of a spoiled child taking his ball and going back to the vineyard.

A year ago we saw a freakishly talented filly take on very ordinary colts and fillies her own age. Then came the Woodward where Rachel ran into multiple Grade 1 winners. The Woodward was her Dubai.

Curlin, Rachel’s future backpack, was still a monster but, let’s be honest, not the same horse he was when he left the United States. He grinded out victories in the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. They lacked the shock-and-awe of his 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic and his 2008 Dubai World Cup wins when his turn of foot was as swift as Baryshnikov.

To the best of my knowledge nobody knocked Curlin the way people knock Rachel. It’s her turn to have to grind out victories and get it done. Gone are the days when she would win by so much daylight you could drive a cruise ship between her and the second place horse.

Gone are those days ... or were they ever there.

Was it all just a dream?

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fat or Muscle?

It’s old versus new.

One meet added four days to its meet, the other took four days off a week.

Saratoga starts its 142nd racing meet in six days and it will be interesting to see which model will win out.

Monmouth is halfway through its major experiment of cutting back its racing days. It’s as if Monmouth put a tooth under their pillow only to find a gold brick resting there in the morning.

According to a story in The Blood-Horse, average attendance is 10,572 and on-track handle is $752,718 — that’s about $72 per person. That’s not entirely impressive per cap, but total handle is up 118 percent to $7,672,255.
“Everyone at the Sports Authority had high hopes for this bold experiment,” said Dennis R. Robinson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. “To say at the midway point that this meet has been a success is an understatement. We’re cautiously optimistic that the second half of the Elite Summer Meet will continue to exceed all expectations.”

For the following seven weeks, Monmouth will be competing with Saratoga for the betting dollar. As it stands, the track by the shore had an edge: it has got a beefed up racing product with no major competition. Saratoga, now, is major competition.

Saratoga’s first weekend, which kicks off on Friday, July 23, has the Schuylerville, the Betfair TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and the Sanford. The following weekend will have the Diana, the Jim Dandy, the Ruffian and the Fourstardave.

Saratoga’s second weekend butts up against Monmouth’s $1 million Haskell Invitational, which, given its convenient four-week spacing, marks itself as a more lucrative prep for the Travers than the $500,000 Jim Dandy. More clams for everyone.

Monmouth plans to use the 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, on July 24, to steal away attention from Saratoga’s first-of-seven Saturdays in the Lady’s Secret Stakes.

I’m curious to see just how much that $7 million bet on Monmouth gets slashed when Saratoga opens its gates. It’s like a pie: There’s only so many slices and I don’t see enough betting dollars around to keep Monmouth’s roller coaster turning corkscrews.

Saratoga’s handle is monstrous and its per cap betting is always in the neighborhood of $150 on-track. But when it matters — on the weekends — is where we’ll see which model rules. Will people tune into Monmouth’s stakes-heavy weekend like the seven it has carded for Sunday, August 1? Or will Saratoga’s traditional card of two strong stakes, allowance races and claiming races win out?

If Monmouth takes a significant betting dollar on the weekends then that is proof that the product on the track matters. That will prove that horse players (some, not all) still want to put their money on the best athletes in the sport.

For my money, that’s where I go because 1. I don’t have much and 2. It’s more exciting than nickel claimers. It just is.

I’m just as excited to see how both will fare against one another. For decades it’s been the same old thing. Now it looks like Monmouth has been in the gym developing this beautiful body in secret. Monmouth is making heads turn now, no doubt about that, a horse racing ugly duckling story.

No matter the outcome or the victor, the winner is the game of horse racing. Summer 2010 could be the best summer of racing any fan or horse player has seen in a long, long time.

The Belmont Stakes winner, Drosselmeyer, is out, but Super Saver and Lookin’ At Lucky are primed to meet in the Haskell. Rachel Alexandra returns to the scene of her smashing Haskell victory from a year ago. Zenyatta still makes monster strides out west and Quality Road looms a tremendous threat. Mine That Bird will look to reclaim some of that luster from a year ago. Like a good tomato or watermelon, summer time brings with it great seasonal varietals.

Monmouth looks pretty good these days. We’ll soon see whose model reigns supreme.

Still, Saratoga is Saratoga and even though it gained a few pounds to the tune of those four racing days, the jury is out as to whether it’s fat or muscle.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Uninspiration of July Horse Racing

I, along with three friends, Ms. Carryover among them of course, meandered into The Stadium Café on Broadway here in lovely Saratoga Springs.

Once seated, we looked up to find LeBron James in mid-interview with a bunch of pimply-faced kids in the background. Soon enough he announced that he would sign with the Miami Heat. He said it with as much excitement as a man at the alter saying, “I do.”

It made for good television, I suppose, but what did Zenyatta say when she came back? That’s right. Nothing. Strange, since she’s a woman.

I kid, I kid.
But you know who did a lot of talking? Jockeys. Don’t you love it when 5-foot-nothing jockeys talk about 6-foot-something athletes? Thank you New York Racing Association.

In a video showcasing the opinions of several NYRA jocks, Rajiv Maragh had James at even money to go to the Heat. Channing Hill, also had James going to the Heat. Hill may know a thing or two about jumping ship: he moved his tack form New York to California not too long ago, but finds himself back in New York. Just leave the door unlocked for him.

“Somebody’s gotta take on the Lakers and if they (the Heat) get LeBron, they are the only people that can take on the Lakers,” Hill said.

NYRA even hit up Jean-Luc Samyn, the same jockey who just keeps on keepin’ on.

“I wish like all of us that he would come to New York,” he said, “my source says that the Miami Heat is where he’ll end up.”

For all of ESPN’s coverage and bantering on this topic, couldn’t they have just tapped into this relatively unknown jockey colony down in Elmont? The answer, of course, is no, because who really cares what jockeys have to say?

Unless it’s Ramon Dominguez. This guy is positively in the zone. He is in the money 56 percent of the time at Belmont Park and has all but sealed up yet another Leading Rider Title.

“I like LeBron to go to New York Knicks,” Dominguez said.

Hmmm, stick to riding horses.

Can you imagine any other athlete garnering this kind of attention? Well, in a way, Curlin did when owner Jess Jackson announced that he would be making his triumphant return for a 4-year-old campaign. Curlin’s Dubai World Cup ranks as one of the all-time great races. He never had a quicker turn of foot than he had in that race. He was never quite the same after (though still head and withers above any other North America horse).

At this time of year there lacks a true thread, anything to hang one’s hat on. Sure, there’s the action at New York City OTB but really, is that exciting? Nah, not so much.

Saratoga is just a few furlongs away and that too is nice, but to do some sort of a “Saratoga Preview” is both trite and boring. Who really cares who may be running in the Travers? Dumb. That’s right. Dumb.

First Dude to the Haskell? That’s something to write about. He nearly stole the Belmont Stakes this year. Couldn’t have asked for a better ride from Dominguez.

“I like LeBron to go to New York Knicks.”

Stop it, please.

But with that asphalt they run over there at Monmouth on Haskell Day, First Dude should have first run at $1 million.

There is at least one thing I’m happy about: the Rachel Alexandra v. Zenyatta talk has, at last, ceased.

I’m throwing the hammer down. No. More. RA v. Z commentary until both their names are in the entry box for the same race. Done.

With that said all the tired talk of NBA free agency, MLB All Star Game snubs, and the argument for best mare in America can end for a while.

Uninspriing? Perhaps, but that’s the state of the sport in this month leading up to Saratoga and Del Mar.

In the meantime, I’ll borrow a line from The Most Interesting Man in the World: Stay thirsty, my friends.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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